In which I learn a new and useful happiness term: mis-en-place.

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One of the fun things about law school (and you thought there wasn’t anything fun about law school!) was the new vocabulary we all picked up.

A new word lets me have a new idea. I remember learning the concept of “acting in reliance,” and suddenly, I saw people acting in reliance all over the place.

I just picked up a useful word from a field I know nothing about—cooking.

Cooks, it turns out, talk about mis-en-place (MEEZ ahn plahs), which is French for “put in place” or “everything in its place.” Mis-en-place describes the preparation done before starting the actual cooking: gathering ingredients and implements, chopping, measuring, and all the rest.

Mis-en-place is preparation, but it’s also a state of mind; mis-en-place means you have everything at the ready, with no need to run out to the store or begin a frantic search for a sifter. You’re truly ready to begin to work.

I’ve been thinking about mis-en-place in my own life. Do I have the tools I need? Am I able to proceed in an orderly, serene way?

Nothing is more satisfying than working easily and well, and I’ve found that mis-en-place helps me achieve that state of flow. In particular, my most important equipment is my own head, so I’ve been paying more attention to my frame of mind. I also like the feeling of having an orderly collection of the tools that help me in my pursuit of happiness: my scoring charts, my list of Twelve Commandments, my pads of sticky notes, my garbage bags, my happiness box, my favorite pens, etc.

Now that I’ve learned the term mis-en-place, I’m more deliberate about composing myself to begin work—whether at my desk at home, on the long table at the library, or in a coffee shop.

For some reason, a phrase from high school, which I also made the last sentence in my college essay (how do I remember these things?) also seems related to this idea and keeps reverberating in my head…

“Read all instructions carefully. Turn over your test papers and begin.”

 


From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.

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